ooking at the news about two Kurdish women, Garibe Gezer and Aysel Tuğluk, that has dominated the news, reminds us that the state is not just fighting the Kurds, but explicitly women too. To acknowledge that helps to see the essence of state violence, and the struggle against it.
Garibe Gezer, a young political activist, died in prison after having spoken out about the torture she was subjected to while behind bars, and veteran politician Aysel Tuğluk, incarcerated since 2016, suffers from dementia but the authorities refuse to release her. There has been no investigation into Gezer’s death, but as HDP MP Meral Danış Beştaş pointed out in parliament, the prison authorities have quickly launched investigations into (female!) political prisoners who protested against her death – by clapping their hands.
But what’s going on here? Isn’t it logical that women bear the brunt of Turkey’s repression because it is women who are at the forefront of the struggle? Well, let’s not blame the victims here, but besides that, this dynamic is much more profound than you would expect.
To explain this, let me tell you about an interview I had with PKK co-leader Cemil Bayık in the spring of 2016, when I was starting the year long research for my book This Fire Never Dies. It had occured to me that by resisting the concept of the nation-state (including a Kurdish nation-state) and instead striving to radically democratise the countries where Kurds live to reach freedom, the PKK resembled a woman in an abusive relationship. Women who are abused by their spouse and don’t leave, often say that he will change and that the relationship just needs work, and that he apologised. The PKK can keep calling on Turkey to change, but doesn’t it see that Turkey is inherently abusive? That Turkey is not interested in a healthy relationship with Kurds, never even apologises for its behaviour and just wants Kurds annihilated either by death or assimilation? I asked: “Shouldn’t you strive to leave, to establish your own state and build better structures there?”
Save her life
Bayık asked me what a woman who is abused by her husband should do. “Leave”, I said, “so she can save her life.” “And what will she do next? Wouldn’t she end up in the exact same situation again if she just leaves, without waging a struggle to make fundamental changes in the relationships she builds?” What he meant to say was: there is no way to construct a nation-state without violence, without patriarchy, without capitalism, without suppression. States are structures that can’t be separated from those features. A Kurdish nation-state would be just as bad as any nation-state, and unable to solve the Kurds’ problems.
The woman analogy turned out to be more interesting than I expected. For the Kurdish movement, the nation-state forms a patriarchal web with patriarchy and capitalism. Fighting it, is in its core a feminine struggle. That’s why women are at the forefront of it. And that is also why Turkey is explicitly targeting Kurdish women. Kurdish men could profit from the patriarchy in the Turkish state, but Kurdish women can have no expectations from it and will fight Turkish fascism the fiercest. So they have to be broken. To break the women is to break the struggle.
Nature of the struggle
It is important to keep this in mind when reading about Kurds in Turkey, and the Kurdish armed and unarmed movement. Just because of the nature of the struggle, this always plays a role. When co-leaders are fired and arrested, it’s because the state doesn’t want women to advance and have leading positions. When women are tortured and raped in prison, it is to hurt and humiliate them as women and weaken their strength. When women are left to perish in prison, it is to rob them of their dignity.
All together, these state policies are aimed at breaking the fiercest resistance the state has ever experienced in its almost century old existence with more patriarchy, more violence, more suppression. The more persistent femininity becomes, the more violent masculinity turns. But the feminine struggle, which is treasuring and nurturing humanity, will win. That’s why the movement in Turkey uses the slogan ‘Mutlaka kazanacağız’, We will definitely win.
I’m not sure whether the state realises just how feminine the Kurdish struggle is in its core, or that it’s targeting women and suppressing the movement so relentlessly because this is just how patriarchy reacts to women, and other Kurds, who resist with all the femininity in them – I’m curious to hear my readers’ thoughts about this so do let me know.
What I do know, is that I see this feminine strength every time I see the Kurdish movement flourish and stand tall. The provincial congress of the HDP in Istanbul this weekend was a good example and a taster of what election season will be looking like, with a packed hall, defiant songs and energetic roaring speeches. The feminine struggle stands strong, amidst all the cruelty.